Wednesday, March 20, 2013

With A Little More Help From My Friend

As I’ve said before, planning my day is a two-part process.   (See Harnessing Time with a Little Help from My Friend.)  Once I’ve come up with my plan, I call my friend – my regular time partner – and tell her what my plan is.  I tell her how my day went yesterday too – what I did and didn’t do, what successes I had and problems I ran into as I carried out yesterday’s plan.   Then she tells me the same about her day yesterday and her plan for today.  
I absolutely love doing this.  It helps me feel good about myself because it forces me to pay attention to all the stuff I’m getting done (instead of just ignoring that while I focus on what I didn’t get done), and it helps me let go of what I didn’t get done.  My favorite part of the whole thing is saying what was on my list that I didn’t do yesterday (I did not do yoga, I did not pay the water bill, etc.).  Somehow saying those things out loud, like someone listing sins in a confessional, and then being absolved of them by my friend, and then hearing what my friend didn’t do that was on her list, makes me see how insignificant my not-doing on any given day really is.  It also gives me a realistic sense of how much I can reasonably expect to do on any given day, and it brings certain facts to my attention that I might otherwise miss (such as the fact that I’m not exercising many days in a row and I need to find some better way to fit exercise in).  The whole check-in process also makes me more mindful while I’m doing whatever I’m doing (because I know I’m going to be telling someone else about it so I’m more likely to pay attention myself), and adds an element of companionability to all my days, so I never have to feel alone with whatever happens, no matter how hard or strange, frustrating or funny it is.   Plus, checking in with my friend is fun.
This check-in process grew out of another time-harnessing exercise one of my friends came up with on a Sunday afternoon about four years ago.  She suggested during a phone call that we tell each other what we’d like to do during the next two hours.  Then, she said, maybe we could call each other back after the two hours were over and report to each other what we’d actually done. 
            We both had stuff to do around the house, the kind of stuff that feels great when you get it done but that you find yourself putting off for weeks or months or even years – cleaning out closets, weeding through drawers and taking what you don’t wear any more to Goodwill, catching up on filing.  So we told each other our goals for the next two hours and decided who was going to call whom when the appointed time came.  When the time did come one of us called the other and we made our reports and then we praised each other for what we’d done and waved away each other’s guilt at what we hadn’t gotten done.
The whole exercise worked great.  It broke the day down into manageable chunks and helped my friend and me get a lot more done than we probably would have without it.  It gave us the impetus to tackle chores we wouldn’t have otherwise and made doing those things feel fun instead of tedious and endless.  Not that filing and cleaning out closets were any more enjoyable than they usually are, but somehow knowing you were going to tell somebody exactly what you did made it fun.  And it was enjoyable precisely because it wasn’t endless; it was knowing you were only going to be doing those things for a brief, limited time -- putting boundaries around the time you’d be spending on them – that made it pleasurable, or at least easier and a lot more tolerable.  (I remember saying to someone once years ago, when I was applying for entry-level jobs I didn’t particularly want, I can do anything for four hours a day.)  The Sunday check-in process also made my friend and me feel like we weren’t alone even though we were in our separate houses. Afterwards, my day felt well spent.  I’d accomplished a lot and even socialized in the process. 
My friend and I still do the Sunday check-in thing every chance we get, and, like I said, those check-ins also led to a somewhat different, daily check-in routine for me.  I strongly encourage anyone who feels chronically rushed, out of control of time, or bad about what she gets done on any given day to try either or both of these check-in processes.  They only take a few minutes and will increase your productivity, improve your ability to manage time, and contribute immeasurably to the quality of your daily life – I know they have mine.   They’re also a fun easy way to socialize, to reach out and connect intimately, regularly, with another human being, without even leaving your house.  And they draw on two great resources we all have available, for free, but often don’t take advantage of:  time and each other.
                                                -- Mary Allen

Monday, March 11, 2013

How Long Does It Take to Clean a Cat Box?

So, as I’ve said before here, I’ve been working on slowing down.  Mostly I’ve been noticing what’s going on when I feel rushed and harried, tense about how busy I am, et cetera, and thinking about what I can do about it.  I’ve discovered a couple of things that are helping me. Both of them have to do with being realistic about the amount of time I have and the amount of time whatever I need to do is going to take.
As I keep saying in this blog, I plan my days first thing in the morning, figuring out what I’m going to do when.   Doing this in itself has helped me enormously; I no longer feel rushed, harried, too busy, worried about getting things done, etc., most of the time.  But sometimes, inevitably, I get behind in the plan, and those are the moments, I’ve noticed, when I start losing my harnessing time serenity.  My natural impulse when I get behind is to rush to catch up.  I think that I still need to to get everything done in the time I have, the time I put aside myself when I was making my plan – to try to cram everything I planned to do into the now-shrinking time/space I have for it.    Usually it’s not a rational thought – I don’t have to get everything done right then, I just think I do, because I decided earlier I would and now I sort of feel like I’ll be failing if I don’t.  So I speed up to try to get everything done.  To slow down, all I have to do is stop, look at my plan for the day, and make a couple of small decisions:  I can cross off some or all of the things I no longer have time for, and/or I can plan to do those things at some point later in the day or tomorrow or whenever.   Of course, you have to have a plan to do that.  If you don’t plan your day, you may be in a constant state of feeling like you have to cram more things than you can do into not enough time to do them.  Sometimes I think that’s why we all feel so crazy busy these days – at least one of the reasons.  Or maybe it’s not the reason we feel busy but an easy way to get rid of at least cut down on the feeling.  An easy way to slow down.
The other helpful little thing I’ve noticed lately since I’ve been slowing down even more – slowing down while still doing everything I have to do, slowing down by changing my thoughts – is that sometimes all I have to do is figure out how long things I have to do, actually do take.  
One of my biggest S.O.L. challenges is dealing with the cat boxes.  S.O.L. stands for shit of life, a name my friend and I came up with for all the annoying, time-consuming stuff you have to do to keep your life running smoothly: paying bills, going to the bank, unloading the dishwasher, getting your oil changed; none of those things is fun but dealing with the cat boxes is the only one I can think of that literally involves shit.  I have two cats and four cat boxes; I keep the cat boxes in the basement of my house.  I scoop them out every few days and every couple of weeks I empty them, wash them, and refill them, usually on Monday or Tuesday, because the city picks up my trash on Wednesday morning.  I don’t mind the scooping but I hate, hate, hate the emptying, washing, etcetera.  But it has to be done (for obvious reasons too nasty to be mentionable here).  It’s the price you pay when you have cats, especially indoor cats; having indoor cats is the price you pay when you live on a sort of busy street like I do and you’re so attached to your cats you can’t handle the risk of them getting run over.
I dread dealing with the cat boxes and I usually put it off.  Sometimes I put it off for days or even weeks.  During all that time, I feel guilty -- not non-stop, flat-out guilty the way you’d feel if you were, say, binging on cookies all day long, but a little bit guilty nevertheless; guilty enough to take up energy, guilty enough to be a kind of psychic work in itself.   Guilty on behalf of the cats as well myself, guilty for not doing anything about that shit sitting down there in my basement.  By not cleaning out the cat boxes, I realized the other day, I’m actually expanding, prolonging, the amount of time I spend on doing it.  Because all the time I’m not doing it I’m thinking about doing it, draining my energy a little bit by feeling guilty about not doing it.  (See Decision Fatigue and Many Other Fatigues.)
So I decided, just for the heck of it, to see how long it actually takes me to deal with the cat boxes.  And when I did I saw that the entire task, from carrying the trash can down to the basement to taking the trash can outside and emptying it into the larger outside trashcan – takes about 25 minutes.  Twenty-five minutes isn’t very long; it’s not long enough to be worth days of minor suffering, guilt, and avoidance.  And did I mention that during all that avoidance, I tell myself over and over – when the time comes once again to clean the cat boxes -- that it’s going to take a long time and a huge amount of energy to do it, and I have to put it off because I’m too tired for it now -- ?
So it helps me to know, now, that it only takes 25 minutes to deal with the cat boxes.  I can find a 25-minute spot in my day – a time when I’m likely to be fresh and full of energy and up for the task – and when the time comes I can tell myself it’s just going to take 25 minutes, and then I can just go down to the basement and do it.  And then I can close the basement door behind me, feeling like I’ve done my job, feeling like my cats are happy, feeling happy myself, and maybe I can even lie down on my daybed and take a little nap to reward myself.
                                                      -- Mary Allen